Greentraveller's Guide to Berlin, Germany

Posted by Yvonne Gordon at 10:02 on Friday 19 August 2011

Our guide to Berlin, Europe's most eco-hip capital. We show you the best places to stay, where to eat and drink, and how to get around the city's green spaces by bike and public transport.

Boulevard Unter den Linden. Photo: Visit BerlinBoulevard Unter den Linden. Photo: Visit BerlinSince much of the Berlin has been under reconstruction in the years since the fall of the Berlin Wall, innovative architects have been designing buildings with low energy consumption and clever use of resources. Even Berlin’s most famous building – the Reichstag — has a glass dome which works as a source of daylight and takes energy from the complex cold and heat storage system in the ground water.

Public transport is also eco-friendly and the city is also full of green areas and communal gardens, with new parks opening all the time, such as at a former airport Berlin Tempelhof or railway station Gleisderieck. The city also has plenty of eco-friendly shopping and dining, and is home to the largest organic supermarket in Europe.

Tiergarten Berlin. Photo: Visit BerlinTiergarten Berlin. Photo: Visit BerlinWhat to do
1. Take a tour. Berlin is so big, a city tour will help you get your bearings. There are plenty of eco-friendly tours, from Berlin walk tours to Berlin on bike tours. Or try the Fahrradstation bike stations, for guided tours on a variety of themes like architecture or history. Fat Tire Bikes and Berlin Insider both run English-speaking tours. If you’re feeling more adventurous, take a Segway tour with City Segway Tours or Magic-ride or chill out on an Asian-rickshaw-style tour with the Berlin Rikscha Tours.

For solar-powered boat tours through the government district along the Landwehr canal, try Solarpolis tours or take a guided kayak tour with Der Kanutourist for a different perspective on the city.

Or try one of the tours we took on Five green and unusual ways to see Berlin

2. After your tour, go back and explore some of the main sights – don’t miss the Brandenburg Gate, the TV Tower at Alexanderplatz, the Reichstag, Checkpoint Charlie, the Berlin Wall and Tiergarden – and spend a few hours too exploring the hip markets, eateries and parks of East Berlin.

3. Discover Berlin’s outdoor spaces, from the traditional park Tiergarden in the West, to smaller more edgy green spaces such as Mariannenplatz in the artistic and multi-cultural area, Kreuzberg. There are also plenty of outdoor markets – one of the biggest and most atmospheric is the Arkonaplatz Sunday flea market at Mitte (take the U8  to Bernauer Str).

The former airport, Berlin Tempelhof, has just been turned into the city’s largest park, and a park on the site of the former railway property Gleisdreieck is also due to open this year, see Green Berlin.

Fish grill at Sunday Market. Photo: Yvonne GordonFish grill at Sunday Market. Photo: Yvonne GordonWhere to eat and drink
With such green credentials, it’s no surprise that Berlin plenty of organic and eco-friendly eateries. In fact, Berlin's chefs are so eco-friendly, they’re now growing their own produce! If you want to try some home-grown ingredients, visit restaurant Magraux where award-winning chef Michael Hoffmann grows his ingredients in his 2,000 sqm garden in Potsdam, including Grabudin turnips and Black Prince Tomatoes. The chefs also use home-grown vegetables in the trendy vegetarian cafe Cookies Cream – fennel, blueberries and heirloom tomatoes thrive in plastic tubs full of organic earth before being served up in the kitchen below.

Foodorama in Kreuzberg is Germany’s first carbon-neutral restaurant with vegetarian meals and hearty favourites. At Lei e Lui, organic quality is top priority for the Mediterranean-Oriental style food.

For vegan cuisine, try La Mano Verde near Berlin Central Station or try the Sunday brunch buffet at wholefoods restaurant Naturalmente, a macrobiotic and organic restaurant.

If all that sounds too healthy, organic fast-food is also an option — check out Supergood, the city’s largest organic fast food restaurant, with tasty veggie burgers, wraps and salads (and cool furniture too). Or if you like the classic Berlin Currywurst, try the organic version in Witty’s. You can get juicy organic burgers at Yellow Sunshine on in Kreuzberg, burgers range from corn and spinach to soya, smoked tofu or seitan.

Finally, for an organic picnic, buy fruit, vegetables, meat, cheese and fresh bread from certified organic suppliers at Kollwitzplatz every Thursday. This is the city’s largest organic market, but organic markets are also held on Lausitzer Platz (Fridays) and on Chamissoplatz (Sunday evenings). The large weekly markets at Winterfeldtplatz (Wednesdays and Sunday evenings) and on the Maybachufer (Tuesdays and Fridays) also offer organic-branded goods. The Marheineke-Markthalle in Kreuzberg, open all week, also sells local organic produce.

Where to stay
Green principles apply in the Maritim Hotel Berlin in Stauffenbergstraße, where energy saving, waste separation and environmental protection are of top priority, Its restaurant is also certified organic. Hotel Bleibtreu only uses natural materials that are free of chemicals meaning they are not only environmentally friendly but also provide an allergy-friendly microclimate in the rooms. The hotel restaurant 31, only uses healthy, low-fat, organic ingredients.

Even more eco is Hotel MitArt on Linienstraße an organic hotel with 100 per cent of raw materials here certified organic, including food preparation and cleaning products. Energy and water are used sustainably and only regional products are purchased. 

The brand new Scandic Hotel Berlin in Potsdamer Platz is the first hotel in Germany to get the EU Ecolabel and has also won awards for its sustainable building construction. Eco-friendly transport options for guests include Segways and an electric car for rent, plus free bicycles. 

For a budget-friendly option, the hostel Die Fabrik also promotes eco-standards and responsible resource use. The hostel's solar panel system on the roof is used to heat water and support the heating system. Finally, the city also has plenty of campsites – see VIsit Berlin for more information.

Tour guide Melanie Kies with dog. Photo: Yvonne GordonTour guide Melanie Kies with dog. Photo: Yvonne GordonWhat the locals are saying
City gardens and urban gardening is a growing city trend. A good example is the Prinzessinnengarten at Moritzplatz in Kreuzberg which opened in 2009. The action group Nomadisch Grün leased a 6,000sqm piece of land and turned it into a flourishing garden, which more than 700 city gardeners were involved in planting, cultivating and harvesting last year.

Similar community gardens can also be found in other parts of town, for example the neighbourhood garden at Mariannenplatz or the Kiezgarten Schliemannstraße in Prenzlauer Berg. Guerrilla gardening activity is also evident around the city, you can find out where on www.gruenewelle.org.

Getting around Berlin
For eco-friendly pubic transport (50 per cent of Berliners don’t own cars), travel by underground, train, tram or bus. The Berlin public transport authority is working on making its network as sustainable as possible — some buses have hydrogen combustion engines, and trams run on special green tracks embedded into grass which reduce air and noise pollution.

Underground trains run on the U-Bahn system, and the S-Bahn railway runs overground. For drivers, Berlin is a designated Low Emission Zone. With a Berlin WelcomeCard, you get free use of the public transport system (as well as reduced entry to around 160 attractions), see Visit Berlin.

Cycling is also popular in Berlin. – the cycle network is 950km long and there are plenty of bike rental agencies. The Berlin velo taxi is another eco-friendly option — each cab carries two people.

If you fancy taking to the water, you can rent and drive a solar-powered boat from Solar Water World AG and glide along without noise or emissions. You can also hire cruisers and even a solar-powered houseboat for up to 12 people. 

Relaxing outside the Reichstag. Photo: Yvonne GordonRelaxing outside the Reichstag. Photo: Yvonne GordonGreen shopping
It’s hard to avoid eco-shopping in Berlin. Many Berlin fashion labels such as Slowmo, or Treches, combine fashion with fair working conditions and organic materials. Berlin Denim, the city’s own jeans label, is eco-friendly. These and other labels are present at the fashion fair thekey.to, the ‘Green Fashion’ part of Berlin Fashion Week.

Numerous shops in Berlin sell organic brands from all over the world. The concept store de la Reh, which opened last September sells exclusively green fashion and Wertvoll in Prenzlauer Berg is another eco-friendly boutique.

Schöner wär’s wenn’s schöner wär focuses on sustainable living — with everything from furniture and accessories to toys and stationery. At Heimatgrün, you can find sustainably produced living accessories and food like chewing gum based on natural rubber. For environmentally-friendly furniture and accessory ideas, have a look in Green Living Berlin in the Kulturbrauerei.

The first organic shop opened in Kreuzberg in 1978 and the highlight for many eco-tourists will be LPG on Senefelderplatz. The largest organic supermarket in Europe stocks 180,000 products over 1,600 sqm of shop floor on two storeys. The range includes 200 types of wine, 180 types of cheese and a spacious fruit and vegetable market section. It also sells contaminant-free clothing and natural cosmetics, see www.lpg-biomarkt.de

Recycling and Upcycling are two other big trends — if you want to see how Berlin furniture and fashion designers are subscribing to the principle 'New from Old', check out Sawadee Design,  Anne Dettmer and the label Raffinesse Tristesse, which uses old food tins as the basis for stools and children’s play kitchens. Dollyrocker in Gärtnerstraße is also as creative as it is eco-friendly – with beautiful children’s clothes made from old textiles.

Green Design tours
If you want to find out more about trends such as urban gardening and eco-fashion in Berlin, then book a tour with goArt or urban trend tours through ID22. These agencies specialise in the creative side of the capital and do Green Design or Creative Sustainability tours either on foot, by bike or by public transport. Or if you are interested in seeing green buildings and environmentally friendly construction, try Ticket B, the specialist architect-led bus tour dedicated to sustainable construction. 

If you're travelling on business, there's great information on the website: Green Meetings in Berlin.

Getting to Berlin by train
You can get to Berlin by train or ferry. For a detailed outline of how to get there by train, including times, prices, return journeys and transfers see our travelling from London to Berlin by train page. 

From London, you can take the Eurostar from London to Brussels in 1 hour 55 minutes, switch to a high-speed Thalys or ICE high-speed train from Brussels to Cologne (1 hour 57 minutes) and then catch the ICE high-speed train from Cologne to Berlin. Fares start at €49 (£43) each way if you book through the Bahn website.

The train from London to Berlin via Paris  takes around 17 hours - take the afternoon Eurostar from London to Paris then the overnight sleeper train to Berlin, arriving in time for breakfast. 

From England, you can also take the ferry from Harwich or Hull to Hoek van Holland and then travel on to Berlin by train. From the north, take a ferry from Hull to Rotterdam or Zeebrugge, or from Newcastle to Amsterdam, and travel on to Berlin by train. To get information on routes, transfers, times and prices see our plan your journey by ferry pages.

For all of the train options, check out the excellent plan your journey to Berlin section on Bahn's website. For more information on visiting Berlin, see www.visitberlin.de

Neighbourhood gardening at Mariannenplatz. Photo: Yvonne GordonNeighbourhood gardening at Mariannenplatz. Photo: Yvonne Gordon

This article was written by Yvonne Gordon

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